Meeting Our Firstborn, Part I

Ryan is sixteen months old now so that is perfect timing for his birth story, right? When I was pregnant with him, I pored through all of the birth stories that I could find. I couldn't read enough, and those stories of mothers and fathers meeting their child for the first time helped me immensely in my own preparation to meet our baby. As late as it is, I want to share our story with hope that it might be able to help, entertain (as you can tell, my version of entertainment is really thrilling) and hopefully not scare an expectant mother too much. In true Katrina style, it is quite verbose. I apologize in advance to your tired eyes. 

On the Eve of 2012

On New Year’s Eve 2011, Chris and I sat in the Potbelly’s off of Clybourn and Webster in Chicago downing our favorite sandwiches that we so missed since we had moved away from Chicago to South Bend the month before. 

Mine was filled with chicken salad, lettuce, tomato and hot peppers, and we ordered sandwiches to take home with us to eat the next day, too. I guess missing Potbelly’s is an understatement. We were killing time before we had to pick David, my brother-in-law up from the airport, and then we were going to surprise our friends at the New Year’s Eve Rugby Formal.

The rugby formal had been a huge point of contention those last few weeks of pregnancy. Chris was in favor of going as long as the roads were clear even though it was the night before my due date because he thought it would be great to see our friends rather than sit around waiting to see if my water had broken or if I just couldn’t control my bladder. I on the other hand did not want to stray from our little apartment for fear that the baby was just going to drop out of me in the middle of the party. Okay, I didn’t really think that, but I will be the first to admit that pregnancy hormones caused occasional (read: frequent) lunacy in me. I wanted to hole up and just wait for the baby to come, and since Chris disagreed with me, crazy accusations just spewed out of my mouth. He didn’t care about his pregnant wife, he regretted having a baby, he loved parties more than his baby. Ha! Anyone who knows Chris knows that without a doubt NONE of these are remotely true. Nevertheless, my pregnant brain wouldn’t relent. 

I KNEW that Chris’ mom would agree with me that not going to the party was the best decision so I had him call her to ask what she would do. Imagine my surprise when she said that she would go to the party because it is better to keep doing things than just waiting around. What!!!!! Pregnancy monster tamed. 

I couldn’t really ignore someone who at the time had gone through eleven pregnancies so I agreed that if I were feeling well enough and if the roads were clear, we would go to the party until midnight, kiss and ring in the New Year with our amazing friends and then head home.

I had been so lucky to have a dream pregnancy. Minimal nausea, I was able to walk two miles each way to and from work for most of the pregnancy, I could sleep other than the nightly bathroom breaks, my baby was perfectly placed and never once kicked me in the ribs or made me too uncomfortable. I felt great! At my last appointment, I asked the midwife if it was normal to feel so good when all I read about was how people could not wait to evict their womb resident as his or her lease reached full term. She laughed and said that it’s not a rule to feel miserable. Then the last week rolled around, and I. Blew. Up. My legs were like memory foam, and if I sat cross-legged, there would be a dent deeper than my desire for mac and cheese left on my leg. We went to meet up with Chris’ college roomie on December 30th, and I tried to put on my maternity jeans that buttoned like normal jeans (thank you, elastic…). I could not button them so I made Chris try. He couldn’t do it. I remember laughing while he pulled and pulled and challenging him , “Aren’t you strong enough??” Well, it turns out that even though Chris is strong, he is not a miracle worker. The baby had dropped so low that there were inches between the button and the button hole so I had the tradeoff of finally being able to breathe versus only fitting into leggings and dresses. Tie this together with the exhaustion that had set in and our fun plans to celebrate the New Year in Chicago had a chance that was as fat as I was. It was not going to happen.

Then New Year’s Eve came, and I felt fine so we decided to go to the party, but told our friends that we weren’t so that we could surprise them. I felt like I needed to nest. All of a sudden I just had to wash all of Chris’ dress shirts and do it well. I looked up the best way to wash them, removed the shirt stays, spread a mix of baking soda and vinegar inside the collars, rinsed with vinegar, washed again, hung them to dry and then ironed them. Yeah, I can tell you that that hasn’t happened again since Ryan was born. Then I went to town cleaning the stove. All of this standing up didn’t help my swelling at all so when it came time to get dressed for the party, I had cankles the size of well, the size of my calves. Those cankles helped me walk the path to crazy pregnant lady land, and I sat on the floor in my dress in front of our closet whimpering that I couldn’t hide my cankles while Chris stood over me with a perplexed face that showed that he was debating if he should honestly answer my question about if my black tights helped slim down the cankle look or not (and release sobs) or stretch the truth and reply with a rehearsed, “Honey, you look beautiful in anything” (and release sobs). Poor husband.

Eventually, I pulled the tights on, my blue heels with sequined bows out of the closet and pulled myself together enough to face not going to the bathroom for the next hour and forty-five minutes in the car. Fast forward to the party after we had Potbelly’s dripping with hot peppers, surprised our friends with ourselves and a beach ball and freaked a few out that I might go into labor since it was my due date and all. I went to the bathroom, and (this is where it starts to get graphic for all of you non-birth-story-lov ers reading) there was mucus with blood in it. Bloody show. Great name. I knew it was a sign that labor could start soon, and I caught myself slowly breathing in and out as I realized that this all was really happening. I went back out to the party, but I kept the presence of bloody show to myself because well, it isn’t exactly social gathering conversation material. How’s your new job? Oh me? I just went to the bathroom and found bloody show. No, it isn’t a nail polish color.

Chris and I took advantage of the fact that this would be the last time with our friends without a little one in tow and had a great time. It was so heartwarming to hear how excited everyone was for the baby. We have some pretty awesome friends. The clock struck midnight for the East Coast, we kissed and cheered and then an hour later we kissed again for the central time zone. Our baby was officially not a tax savvy baby as he or she hadn’t made an entrance early enough for a 2011 tax break. We drove home and fell asleep right as our heads hit the pillows. The night had been a success.

Blowfish

New Year's Day, 2012

I woke up the next morning at 10:00 to what felt like mild period cramps…so mild that I had to concentrate on them to assure myself that I was actually feeling them. I searched for a contraction counting app on the iPhone and downloaded a free one.

Our apartment was super clean thanks to my nesting and my hospital bag was packed so I searched my brain for something to do. I realized that I hadn’t put the last album of wedding photos up on Facebook, and I better get them up before the next big event in our life. What a priority (and as I write this now with a baby I am marveling at how much time I used to have! I didn’t even appreciate it). I texted a few people while doing that, but I didn’t really say much about the regular contractions because I had this bizarre thought that if everyone knew I was in labor, I would feel so much pressure about if the baby had come yet or not. So I just kept it quiet. News flash, Katrina: everyone was already wondering about the baby’s arrival.

Late in the afternoon, I decided that I must bake a pumpkin pie. So I started to make the crust when I realized that it was almost dinner time, and I hadn’t planned anything for us to eat nor did I want to make anything. Pumpkin pie, yes. Dinner, no. I told Chris that I felt bad ordering pizza when I was perfectly capable of making dinner, and he replied that I was 40 weeks pregnant and deserving of delivery (ha ha). Love that man. Hotbox Pizza was the only place close that was open on New Year’s Day and delivering so one thin crust pizza with pepperoni and jalapenos headed our way. The contractions were picking up in intensity, but I still wasn’t in much pain, just discomfort like I had been the whole day. We wolfed down the pizza, and I went back to baking the pie.

All of a sudden I felt a change in the contractions, and I could no longer continue to do things during a contraction. I had to stop mixing the pumpkin filling to relax my body through the contraction, then I would rush through as much as I could before the next contraction came around five minutes later. The contractions still only lasted 30-40 seconds or so and I was determined to wait it out until at least midnight so I was happy that I hadn’t reach the 5 minutes apart, 1 minute long for 1 hour which is the normal point to head to the hospital. I also had tested positive for the Group B Strep so I was going to have to get antibiotics either once my water broke or once I got to the hospital. If I was just having contractions, I could labor at home until the 5-1-1 point (my midwife even said 3 minutes apart would be apart since this was my first baby and we lived so close to the hospital) which was ideal because I wanted to labor at home for as long as possible. I had prayed that it would work out this way.

Once the pie was in the oven, I got into the bathtub to see if it would help the contractions. It definitely helped me stay calm, and I tried to relax my whole body like we had practiced. Chris and I had read Husband-Coached Childbirth: The Bradley Method of Natural Childbirth, but we didn’t attend any Bradley childbirth classes or anything because we were cheap and by the time we had moved to South Bend, it was too late to start one. Even the hospital childbirth class was full! I just read birth story after birth story to prepare myself, and then the Bradley book was so helpful. With each contraction, I relaxed my whole body from my forehead to my toes, taking care to relax my jaw and lips, which helped the rest of the body to relax. Chris came in and gave encouragement through the contractions by saying simple, sweet things like, “We are going to meet our baby,” and that he loved me just like the book recommended. The contractions kept getting stronger and stronger, but I was under some delusion that I was going to be able to hold out until midnight. I asked Chris if I should get out of the bathtub with the plans of getting back in the bathtub later to wash my hair or if I should just go ahead and just take a bath. I was leaning toward just getting out, but Chris could see that things were picking up and that I should go ahead and bathe. Good thing he did!

I finished bathing and then stepped out of the bathtub. I distinctly remember drying my hair with the hair dryer, having to turn it off, and then leaning on the bathroom counter to relax and breathe through a contraction multiple times. Once my hair was dry, I started to put on makeup. I knew it was going to come off since labor is not the most sweat-free task , but I needed something to do rather than wait for the next contraction to hit.

My contractions had started to become so painful that leaning on the counter did not help anymore. The pain was concentrated on my lower back…the joy of back labor. I started to be in the Bradley Method’s runner’s position during each contraction in the hope of completely relaxing my body so my cervix could dilate as quickly as possible. 

I lay on my side on the floor with my legs bent as if I were running and focused on relaxing my body one part at a time while breathing in and out. I silently prayed Our Fathers and Hail Marys over and over until the contraction passed. The contractions were so painful, but still manageable when I was doing this. In between contractions, I finished drying my hair, put makeup on and then I decided that I should paint my toenails since the nurses and midwife would be seeing them. Looking back that concern is hilarious since they were going to see a lot more than my toes! It is also shows me how much time I had to kill between contractions because I rarely keep up with self-pedicures and because my nesting had made the apartment spotless. I just needed something to keep my mind off the looming contractions every few minutes.

After half an hour or so, I started to crave being on the floor even when a contraction wasn’t happening, and I knew that I needed Chris to help me relax so I called out to him. I lay down on our bedroom floor and resumed the runner’s position. I saw a text from my friend, Aubry, that encouraged Chris and me to pray for St. Gianna’s intercession. St. Gianna had just chosen Aubry the day before during her family’s annual patron saint of the year activity. Aubry had also sent me a rosary that was made from olives trees in the Holy Land, and I rolled it in my fingers in between contractions and then just let it hang from my hand when I had to relax my whole body during contractions. Chris talked to me softly through the contractions. I needed him so much. Oddly, I felt so alive. When I relaxed and prayed, it seemed like I could feel every nerve in my body screaming at me, but as I would pass the peak of the contraction, I knew it was okay. I was doing this. I was birthing our first born.

Each contraction was getting worse and worse. It felt like someone was squeezing my back in his fist the way a sibling squeezes your hand during the Our Father at Mass so your knuckles rub against each other…only multiply that by so much more. I wanted to just tense up and curl up into a little ball, but Chris’ soft words helped me to stay relaxed even though it was the last thing I felt like doing.

We thought that it might help if I lay on the bed so I moved there. Wrong. I could not relax at all on the soft bed. My body felt so uncomfortable besides the fact that I was going through labor. Back to the floor I went.

Chris saw once again that things were picking up so he started to gather our things up for the hospital while talking to me through contractions. I was not going to have any of that. The crinkle of a plastic bag, the sound of a typing on a keyboard, the sound of a zipper, anything other than Chris’ voice threw my concentration off and made me so mad. “Stop. That. Now.” Chris was no longer allowed to move around during contractions so he thought that it would be helpful to massage my head. Even worse. “Don’t do that,” I forbade him in a not so very nice tone. So Chris had to scurry around getting last minute things done in between contractions, but he had better be back by the time the next contraction started or things were going to get ugly…if they weren’t already.

At this point, I wasn’t saying much in between contractions. I would just finger the rosary, tell Chris when the contraction started so he could start the timer on the app, relax, breathe, try not to curl up into a tense ball, try not to curse, try not to whimper, pray, pray, pray, listen to Chris and then tell him when it was over. My contractions had jumped to three minutes apart so Chris made the executive decision that we needed to get to the hospital even though I frantically kept reminding him that we needed to wait until midnight, and it was only 10:30! Chris told me that that wasn’t happening and that I needed to get dressed. Yes, sir. Except not. Each time Chris came back from taking something to the car, I was still lying on the floor in runner’s position, naked as I was on my birthday. I honestly could have gotten up to dress myself, I just couldn’t imagine getting up and ruining my routine that was helping me survive. Finally, Chris had to grab my clothes and basically dress me. Chris asked me if I wanted my running shoes since they were comfortable when he saw the boots I had laid out earlier, but I replied with my priorities in line that they wouldn’t look good with my outfit. You know, my high fashion outfit of lint-covered leggings, a maternity shirt stretched to its limit and the warmest and thickest winter coat of all time. Boots, it was.

To the Hospital We Go

I ran (waddled) to the car through the snow. We were in a snow globe, the snow was falling so hard. We stopped to take a quick photo, and then I tried to relax through a contraction in the car. That was no fun. Chris slowly drove to the hospital, and it took all of three minutes to get there. Thank you, Lord! As we drove through the parking garage and saw sign after sign reserving parking spots near the Childbirth Unit for doctors, I commented very smart-aleck-y that they needed spots for mothers in labor. Chris asked me if I wanted to be dropped off at the door, but I was terrified of being without him even for one contraction so I said no. I sat through one last contraction in the car and then we scurried to the door of the Childbirth Unit.

I made it to the chairs in the waiting area when another contraction hit. I went through it silently while standing with my hand on the chair, and it was horrible. I wanted to be back on our bedroom floor. After it had passed we made the few steps to the welcome desk to give my information to the young lady working. While she was looking up my information since I had pre-registered, another contraction hit. The lady guessed correctly, “Two minutes apart?” She asked if I wanted a wheelchair or if I wanted to walk to the triage room. I replied that I would walk because the thought of sitting down through a contraction sounded so terrible when the baby’s head was so low and the pressure so great. I slouched over a rail on the wall when the next contraction hit before we reached triage.

The triage nurse gave me a hospital gown and I changed out of my clothes. I put on the black sports bra that I planned to wear because I hoped to labor in the water then I laid down on the bed in the runner’s position. The next contraction was harder, but it felt more manageable since I was able to relax much better than when I was sitting in the car or standing up in the hallway. The triage nurse (she had five kids and I remember wondering how in the world she went through this five times) started to ask me what seemed like a million questions about my medical history. I was livid on the inside. “Isn’t this what you preregister for?!” I screamed in my head. As mad as I was, I was worried about being impolite during labor so I answered all of the questions calmly during each of the short spaces between contractions. When my contractions would start, I would tell Chris to start the timer and try to relax. However, the nurse would keep typing away, and I was so annoyed on the inside. Chris thought I was going to bite her head off since he knew that I couldn’t stand any noise, but I was so scared of being mean that I didn’t say anything.

The nurse went to let the midwife know that I was ready to have my cervix checked, and I lay on the bed so scared that she would come back, check me and tell me that I was only three centimeters dilated and that I had seven more to go. At my last appointment, I had dilated two centimeters. What if all of this pain was for one measly centimeter?

My midwife came in and asked us a bit about how labor had been so far. Then the moment of truth came. I just knew it was going to be three centimeters.

“Whoa, Mama! Seven centimeters!”